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The referendum in Greece and the struggle against austerity

By Kosta Harlan

Massive rally of Communist Party of Greece (KKE) fills Syntagma Square

Millions of Greek voters go to the polls July 5, in a referendum that will have important implications for the country's future. The prime minister Alexis Tsipras, of the governing SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), announced the referendum last week after a breakdown in negotiations with the so-called Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission). The referendum basically asks: do you accept the Troika's proposed austerity measures (“yes” or “nai” in Greek) or do you reject them (“no” or “oxi”)?

But the referendum has taken on a much larger meaning than this. Sensing an opportunity, the Greek capitalist class is throwing its weight behind a yes vote; their TV, radio and newspaper outlets which dominate the country's media are clamoring for “yes” and warning of disaster if “no” prevails. There are even reports of employers forcing their workers to turn out to the “yes” rally that took place in Athens on July 3. A win for the “yes” vote would mean favorable conditions for the old center-left and center-right parties of PASOK and New Democracy to come back to power – these are the parties that signed on to the austerity agreements of the last five years. A “yes” vote is important for the capitalist class because it deals a blow to the anti-austerity movement, and also brings some stability into the economy in the form of badly needed funds for the cash-starved banking system. Those in the “yes” camp skew heavily towards being older and more conservative.

On the other side is the “no” camp, and here you will find those from the ranks of the poor, the working class, the youth and the unemployed, as well as the pensioners struggling to survive, those without healthcare, and students with no prospect for employment. A victory for the “no” vote would send a strong message to the IMF, the ECB and the EC that Greece refuses to submit to humiliating and poisonous austerity measures that will enslave the country to massive debt payments for generations to come. A victory for “no” would offer encouragement for those forces that are struggling against austerity. Instead of turning back towards the old politics of austerity, a “no” vote provides more favorable conditions for struggle.

The problem is that SYRIZA is not in a position to lead this struggle. SYRIZA has already shown it is not going to deliver on its promises to end the austerity measures. Instead the party is proposing their own milder version of the Troika's austerity measures (an “honorable compromise” they call it), which does things like push back implementation of some of the measures (e.g. phasing in the retirement age of 67 later on, rather than immediately) instead of rejecting them outright. More broadly, SYRIZA isn't prepared to, and doesn't have the objective of, confronting the monopolies and the capitalists who run the country, or breaking with the European Union — preconditions for building a more just economy and society.

To break the chains of austerity, Greece needs a rupture with the Troika and the European Union. To have an economy that serves the people, the big industries and monopolies which dominate economic life must be in the hands of the working class. These questions are not on the referendum, of course. So while the “no” vote is important if only for its symbolic value, it's also understandable why the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has urged workers to reject both the “yes” and “no” vote – because the choice should not be between SYRIZA's milder austerity and the Troika's dictates: the choice should be between working people running society or monopoly rule; between producing according to people's needs or producing for capitalist profit, and between distributing wealth fairly or allowing millions to suffer so a tiny handful prosper without measure.

No matter what happens with the referendum, one can only hope that the struggle in Greece will continue to strengthen and build people's organizations while keeping their eyes on the prize: a society where working people rule and social justice is the law of the land.

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